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by Roger Ostrander
[ -1- ]

    "This,"  Gebhart proclaimed proudly, pointing off into the foilage.  "Is the way."

     "What do you mean, 'this is the way'?"  Harold asked, having wisely stopped as he spotted Gebhart beginning one of his proclomations.

     "I mean, this is the way we should go." Gebhart said sternly, glaring at Harold.  "The map says the ruins are somewhere in this direction.  So we should go this way.  Do you see something wrong with my reasoning?"

     "Not at all." Harold replied, trying his most placating tone.  Gebhart was an intimidating person - especially decked out in his heavy armor and swinging that katana around whenever annoyed as he was.  "But it would be difficult to go through the forest there.  I think it would be easier to go around."

     "Forest?  Ha!"  Gebhart brought his katana down on some hapless plant, severing it neatly.  "I'll show those forests!"

     Harold restrained himself from saying anything else.  Besides, Gebhart needed something to get experience - he had only been a samuri for a few days now.  Harold, on the other hand, had been a priest forever.  Well, after he had been a thief.  And a knight.  In fact, it seemed that he changed jobs nearly as often as he changed clothes.  No matter - now he was a priest, and a darn good one at that.

     Alicia finally caught up with them.  "Hi..." she panted.  "Did... you guys... have to... run... all this... way?"     "Sorry" Harold offered.  "Here, let me help."  he conjured up one of his basic curative skills and cast it.  Alicia favored him with a smile.

     "Thanks Harold!" she said, hugging him quickly.  Harold felt the urge to jump up and down, but managed to quietly restrain himself.  After all, he was a man of the cloth now.  No more running around charming women - though he still remembered how.

     Gebhart glared toward Alicia.  "I told you, we have to be back at Igros in two days.  And if we haven't found those ruins by then, Ramza will kill us."

     "Oh, he won't kill us!"  Harold said.  "Don't scare Alicia like that!"

     Gebhart turned his gaze to Harold.  "He won't, eh?  You remember Rad, don't you?"

     "Of course I remember Rad!"  Harold said.  Rad had been the mediator that had first invited Harold onto the team.  Back then Harold had been a rogue knight, and had attacked the party with a few of his buddies.  "But then Rad showed be the light, and I turned my back on the ways of evil forever."  Harold concluded his story, which both Alicia and Gebhart had heard a thousand times before.

     "Harold, you were a master thief for nearly a year before you became a priest."  the samuri pointed out.

     "It was a while before I really saw the light.  But Rad was the one that brought me into this team!"

     "Okay then.  Now, do you remember when Rad didn't bring back any treasure from that salvage operation a while ago?"     Harold nodded.  "But Ramza didn't kill him.  He seemed mildly annoyed, but he wasn't homicidal."

     Gebhart smirked.  "That's what he'd have you belive.  But you weren't there at Golgarond."

     Harold's face fell.  "No, I wasn't.  I wish I had been, I could have done something for him."  Golgarond had been the battle where Rad had died, and Harold had never been the same.

     "No, you couldn't have." Gebhart said, his face contorting with glee.  "Ramza wouldn't let anyone near him after he fell.  No, our great leader muttered something about 'Having lost this battle too many times before' and commanded us to fight!"  the samuri was enjoying the shocked look on Harold's face.  "Do you see what this means?  If we come back empty-handed, Ramza will have us killed!"  With that, he loped into the forest.

     "That can't be true!" Harold shouted.  He started running to catch up with Gebhart.

     "Hey... wait up!"  Alicia, still panting, started running after them.


[ -2- ]

    A few hours later they were deep inside the forest, which turned out to be a lot thicker than they had originally thought.  A few times, Harold was tempted to point out that it would have been a lot easier to go around, but one glare from Gebhart stopped that thought in its tracks.  After about fifteen more minutes of walking, Gebhart stopped.

     Harold stopped as well, and Alicia bumped into him from behind.  "Excuse me!"  She said cheerily.  Harold, trying to think pure thoughts, missed the first half of what Gebhart was saying.

     "... you do anything about this forest?" the samuri was demanding of Alicia.

     Alicia seemed to think for a moment.  "Sure!  I'll help!"  With that, she raised her rod to the sky and started whispering words in a tongue that Harold vaguely recognized.  Three glowing greenish spheres appeared around her, then spiraled off into the sky, which immediately turned a dark red.  Some sort of floating bull-creature appeared as if from nowhere and began spewing fire in all directions.  Explosions rocked the ground, and all three of them were blown off of their feet by the concussion.  Then it was over.

     Harold was the first to get up.  Where there had once been a forest, now there was nothing but charred cinders.  The path, being the only thing that wasn't covered in ashes, was fairly visible.

     Gebhart surveyed the carnage and whistled appreciatively.  "Now that's doing something about the forest!  Alicia, this job couldn't have been done without you!"

     Alicia beamed at the praise as Harold helped her up.  "Thanks!"

     "Now, let's press on!" the samuri ordered, bounding ahead.  Harold was soon after, and Alicia brought up the rear, yelling for the rest of the trio to wait.


[ -3- ]

    They exited what was left of the forest an hour later.  They could tell they had left because suddenly the ground had life again.  Gebhart turned and faced the two of them.

     "Now, as leader of this group, I have an announcment to make." he proclaimed.

     "Leader?  You're not the leader!" Harold objected.     "I am!  Ramza distincly appointed me leader when he sent us out on this job!"

     "No he didn't.  He just said 'you three' and gestured vaguely.  We were just the ones who were dumb enough to say 'who, us?'"

     "Yes, but I said 'Who, us?' first, so that makes me the leader!" Gebhart answered, irritated.  "Now, my announcment.  We are close to our goal!"

     "I knew that!"  Alicia piped up.

     "You did?"  Gebhart asked, not without a bit of suspicion.

     "Yes.  About halfway through the forest, I had a good feeling.  So I knew we were almost there!"

     "Alicia, you always have a good feeling!  Remember that massacre at Dorter?  You had a good feeling about that too!"

     "Can we go?"  Harold said, picking an opportune moment to intervene.  He couldn't bear the sad look on Alicia's face any longer, but he was getting tired of mediating in disputes between the two.  Though he was good at it.  Hmmm.... maybe he'd become a mediator....


[ -4- ]

    "I'm hot!"  Alicia complained, walking down the hill toward another, bigger hill.  Neither Gebhart nor Harold answered this.

     "I wish I was an archer."  Alicia continued complaining.  "Or a monk.  Or a dancer.  If I were one of those, I wouldn't be wearing this heavy robe."

     "I wish you were a mime." Gebhart grumbled.  "Because then I wouldn't have to hear you complaining."

     Harold didn't answer, mainly because he was too occupied trying not to think of Alicia as a dancer to do so.

     The three crested the bigger hill in unison, and gasped at what they saw below.

     "It's a vast ruin!" Harold proclaimed.

     "You're a putz!" Gebhart replied.

     "Why did you say that?" Harold asked.

     "Because I thought we were playing the game where we state the blindingly obvious!  Come on!" the samuri started running downhill toward the ruin.  Harold followed, as did Alicia.

     They caught up to Gebhart at the doorway to some steel building.  He was scrutinizing it very carefully.

     "I'm going to open this door", he said, whispering, "with a great deal of caution."

     "No!"  Harold objected.  "You need to open the door with faith."

     "Faith?  A lot of good faith will do me if it's trapped!  I'm going to open it with caution!"

     "No, you have to open it with faith!" Harold said, nearly exasperated.  "If you don't have faith that you'll complete your task, you may never do so!"

     "Quiet you!  I have less than half the faith you do, and you used to be a thief!  So I'm opening the door with caution!"


     "It has to be opened with faith, does it?  Then why don't you open it?"

     "Because you would be better suited for the job."

     Neither of them noticed Alicia mumbling behind them.

     "Better suited!?" Gebhart roared.  "You just don't want to be decapitated by the trap!"

     Harold was in the middle of framing a reply when he was knocked off of his feet for the second time that day.  This time, fire was not raining down upon him.  Instead, the very earth itself was shaking apart.  Fissures gaped wide open, mountains crumbled, and the door to the temple swung lazily open.  No decapitating traps assaulted them.

     Alicia walked past the two into the temple, offering these words of advice:  "Open it with a titan."


[ -5- ]

    "I've never seen it before."  Harold said, looking at the small object that was seated on a pedestal in the center of the room.

     "Nobody has, that's why it's a rare treasure.  What I want to know is what it is!"  Gebhart snapped.

     Harold took his time looking over item.  It was a small cylinder, a wire protruding from each side.  On the cylinder were painted differently colored bands.  He then turned to the placard nearby.  After a moment's reading, he spoke.  "I think it's a zodiac stone."

     "What?  But it doesn't look anything like a zodiac stone!" Gebhart objected.

     "That's what the placard says, or at least the part I can translate!  It says '1000', then the symbol for 'Libra', then something else.  It also mentions being able to 'resist', though I'm not sure what.  Probably evil."

     "Hmmm....  Okay, it's a rare treasure, though I don't buy this story about it being a Zodiac Stone.  Still, we'll be rewarded for this find.  Come!  Back to Igros!"  With that, the samuri grabbed the artifact, and started running.  Harold didn't follow immediately.

     Alicia turned to him.  "Why aren't you going?"

     "I've been running too much.  How about a leisurely walk back to Igros?" he said.

     Alicia smiledand put her arm in his.  "Sounds good to me!"

     They started walking as Alicia spoke up again.  "So tell me Harold, what did you think of this job?"

     Harold thought for a moment.  "Well, it wasn't the most fun I've ever had, but it was really easy."  He looked toward her.  "And I've got a wonderful escort back to the castle."  He was still thinking about Alicia when he said, "All in all, this job's a gift from God."


[ -Epilogue- ]

    "How long have we been here?" Alicia asked.

     The bartender walked by.  "Two weeks.  And you still haven't paid your bill."

     "I keep telling you, Ramza will be here!"  Gebhart yelled.

     "Yeah, Ramza.  Sure.  If that heretic so much as steps foot into my bar, I'll slit his throat myself!" the bartender proclaimed before walking off.

     Harold gulped.  "Where do you suppose Ramza is?  I mean, we've been here for two weeks waiting for him!"

     "He's lost."  Gebhart replied.

     "What do you mean lost?  Ramza doesn't get lost."

     "Yes he does.  All the time."  Gebhart replied, that old grin coming to his face.  "I was once waiting in a bar for three months while Ramza travelled the globe trying to pick me up."  He leaned forward, both to emphasize his point and to strike fear into the gullible little priest.  "It turns out, he had forgotten where he had dropped me off!  Isn't that something!"

     "That's not what happened in our case, right?"  he looked to Alicia.  "Right?


[- The End -]

-Roger Ostrander
 November 17, 1998

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